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UW President Thompson Announces Layoffs At UW System Administration Office

Thompson Says Layoffs Saving System Central Office $10M Offers 'Example For The University' Facing Pandemic-Related Budget Cuts

Tommy Thompson file photo
In this March 18, 2016 photo, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson addresses the crowd at a town hall meeting at the River Steel plant in West Salem. Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo

University of Wisconsin System President Tommy Thompson said Tuesday that the UW System Administration Office will lay off an unspecified number of employees and limit out-of-state travel for administrators to save $10 million through June 30, 2022.

Thompson said part of the savings will go toward a new scholarship for underrepresented and underserved students attending state universities.

In a press release issued by the System Administration Office, Thompson said the cuts were about “setting priorities in the face of difficult financial times.”

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“To be the University’s biggest advocate and toughest evaluator, I will be directing my leadership to identify administrative savings now while championing investments for underrepresented and underserved populations,” Thompson said in the news release. “We are setting priorities in the face of difficult financial times.”

Thompson said there will be a 10 percent reduction of System Administration’s “state-supported salary line” totaling $6 million. This will be achieved through staff layoffs at the UW’s central office, though Thompson wouldn’t say how many employees would be fired during a meeting with reporters on Tuesday.

I’m not happy about having to reduce by $6 million the staff in central administration and an overall $10 million dollar cut,” Thompson said. “But it’s the right thing to do for the administration. It’s the right thing to do to show an example for the university and it’s also necessary considering our financial situation, to make those necessary reductions at this point in time.”

The cuts are on top of around 40 layoffs within UW System Administration’s UW-Shared Services Office announced in May under former UW System President Ray Cross. Those layoffs worked out to a workforce reduction of 19 percent in the division, which assists campuses with human resources functions.

System Administration will also eliminate memberships, sponsorships and subscriptions and use virtual meetings and limit out-of-state travel for an estimated $2.4 million.

According to data from the UW System Accountability Dashboard, the total number of employees listed as working under for System Administration increased from 287 in 2017 to 610 in 2019.

A UW System spokesman said the increase was due to changes in position descriptions during the 2018 restructuring of the UW System.

Of the estimated $10 million in savings at the UW Central Administration Office through 2022, $1 million will go toward a new annual “Wisconsin Regents Opportunity Scholarship” aimed at providing college access to underrepresented and underserved students.

“And so that’s going to be in minority high schools across the state of Wisconsin,” said Thompson. “And they’re going to be used to help students get prepared for college.”

The cuts to staff and travel announced Tuesday don’t affect UW campuses. The state’s 13 universities and branch campuses suffered unprecedented revenue losses this spring when all classes abruptly moved online following the first cases of COVID-19 in Wisconsin. The UW System Administration Office estimated campuses lost out on more than $212 million in revenues due to housing and dining refunds to students and canceled sporting events.

In May, Gov. Tony Evers ordered state agencies to cut $70 million from the state budget that ended June 30. Of that, around $41 million — or more than half of the cuts — came from the UW System. Evers followed up in July with an order for state agencies to cut $250 million from the current state budget, which runs through June 30, 2021.

The governor said he was in conversations with UW System officials about having the state’s universities help put the state budget in the “best place possible.”

In response to the proposed cuts, Thompson issued a statement pointing out that the UW System “has already borne a disproportionate share of state cuts to date.”

Thompson told reporters that talks between himself and UW System leaders are still ongoing with Evers on how much of the $250 million in state budget cuts will come from public colleges.

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